Africa: Open Skies - African Nations to Pilot Single Air Transport Market

Dakar, Senegal — Intra-African air travel under the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an initiative of the African Union to create a unified air transport market in Africa, is edging closer to reality, after 17 countries committed to a pilot programme.

At a meeting in Dakar on November 14, the ministers of transport and aviation from Cabo Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Niger, Gabon and Zambia launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) pilot to open their air transport markets to each other. At the meeting - on the 23rd anniversary of the Yamoussoukro Decision - the nations also agreed to streamline their national airline service agreements.

The Yamoussoukro Decision is a treaty adopted by most members of the African Union establishing a framework for the liberalization of air transport services on the continent. Currently, 35 African countries are signatories of the agreement.

Despite the existence of the treaty, most African airlines have remained under protectionist policies.

SAATM hs receiving backing from key agencies, such as the African Civil Aviation Commission.

According to Adefunke Adeyemi, the secretary general of the African Civil Aviation Commission, "the commission will actively engage and collaborate with stakeholders to proceed with clear actions and timelines to achieve SAATM implementation."

The 35 countries signed up to the SAATM Solemn Commitment of unconditional implementation constitute over 80% of the continent's aviation market.

In a 2020 report, Geopolitical Intelligence Services estimates there are 731 airports in Africa, half of which are internationally served by about 419 airlines.

The successful implementation of the Pilot Implementation Project and eventual full take-off of SAATM would have immense benefits for the continent, especially now that there are buzzing trade activities under the African continental free trade area (ACFTA).

According to the International Air Transport Association, IATA, "SAATM will open up Africa's skies and promote the value of aviation throughout the continent by boosting traffic, driving economies and creating jobs."

A 2014 survey by IATA, Transforming Intra-African Air Connectivity: The Economic Benefits of Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, estimates that liberalisation of 12 African air markets would generate an additional 155,000 jobs to the sector and would attract about US $1.3 billion annually to the GDPs of the individual markets.

An even more recent study commissioned by the African Union dubbed "Continental Study on the benefits of SAATM and Communication Strategy for SAATM Advocacy" indicates that the initiative would amass US $4.2 billion to the GDP, generate 596 000 new jobs besides leading to 27% reduction in air fares while also contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, UN-SDGs.

In the short term, the pilot programme presents a lucrative opportunity for airlines from the continent to expand their operations into different markets.

Bilateral agreements between different countries that are current signatories to the SAATM programme and some legible members that will take part in the pilot project provide a great starting point for the full realisation of the programme.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Cote d'Ivoired'Ivoire are the most recent parties to come out and commit to bilateral agreements that appreciate SAATM guidelines. They will reinforce their cooperation in the air transport sector.

Through an agreement signed on 22 November in Abidjan, there were "modifications in accordance with the Yamoussoukro Decision following the commitments made by the two countries for the implementation of immediate measures necessary for the establishment of the single market for air transport in Africa" a joint press statement from the parties read in part.

South Africa, a key player in the continental air travel market, is strengthening its capacity by opening up smaller airports and elevating them to meet continental standards.

For instance, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, located 27km northeast of Nelspruit, will receive intercontinental flights. Flight 4Y142 from Frankfurt, Germany, via Namibia landed in the facility for the first time on 16 November.

The tourism-rich city of Mbombela is projected to reap big from the upscaling of Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.

The popular recently-signed bilateral agreements between Kenya and South Africa add to a long list of inter-African aviation agreements that offer a base point for realising a single African air market.

Bird Agency

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